Shareefah Abiola Andu: Promoting beauty in Islam
By: Jemi Ekunkunbor
Mrs. Shareefah Abiola Andu is a woman of many parts; a kind of jack of all trades but a master of all. The graduate of sociology from the University of Lagos, also holds an M.Sc in Banking & Finance from the University of Ibadan.
The 2004 alumnus of the Lagos Business School, started her professional career as a banker before joining Tribune where her journalism career started.
In 1998, her journey into entrepreneurship began with the establishment of ARABEL, an Islamic lifestyle shop. With the success of the brand, there was no stopping her. She authored and published In the light of Allah, a daily devotional, and went on to publish Zephyr a lifestyle magazine. Arabel is known for pioneering the production of novel turbans to encourage Muslim women to cover their hair. Only recently, the serial entrepreneur, has launched Aleef Tv which made its debut on Startimes this Ramadan season.
Here, she talks about doing tv and more all for the Islamic faith.
You have pioneered a lot for the Islamic faith from a lifestyle shop to writing a daily devotional, to publishing a magazine, to introduction of gorgeous turbans into fashion. What inspires
First, I think my inspiration comes from God because most times, I don’t even know how these things happen. I can only ascribe it to God. Anytime I have one of my ideas, my children will say, “hmm, mummy, you have come again.” I’m a very introspective person, I think a lot and I try to look at where there’s a lack and think of a way to fill the vacuum. I think Allah has given me courage to do these things. At the end of the day, I always have a lot of satisfaction from doing it.
How has the journey been?
It has been a long and tough journey. Arabel will be 22 this year by the Grace of God. I love challenges and I think this is what God has created me to do. When I started writing, and after spending money to publish and you have so many unsold copies, that can be quite discouraging; and I did that for about 6-7 years before I decided to cut my losses.
At some point, my central warehouse where I store goods for the three branches of Arabel stores, got burnt. That was a big blow, looking at everything you’ve worked for, for 22 years burnt to ashes in front of you. But what do we do? We stand up, brush ourselves up, roll up our sleeves, raise our hands and faces to God Almighty who started it, and we start again. So the road has been so so tough, but God always comes to help us surmount the challenges.
You have done print, now you are on television. Why did you decide to do Aleef Tv at this time?
If you look around, you’ll realize that the Muslim population and the Muslim interest has not been duly and adequately represented in the media. You have newspapers, magazines that are not owned by Muslims, so if you’re not there, who’s going to protect your interest? We have radio stations some called general or secular but they have religious undertones that are not Muslim. Same for TV stations. So, how do you want to air your views? None of them tell the Muslim story. So there’s a huge need there. Nigeria has some statistics about 180 million, some say 200 million and if we conservatively say 50%of that is Muslim, that’s about 90-100 million people that are Muslims. So this is a huge number of people, more that 4 countries combined together in West Africa and they don’t have a single tv channel that can tell the Muslim story. Somebody has to do it and that is why Aleef Tv came about. I’m sure at the end of the day, it’ll serve the need that we want it to serve.
When does the show start?
Presently, we are doing like a synergy with Startimes. Startimes as you know is a coverage platform, and they have a channel called Ibadah TV. For this Ramadan period, we’re supplying them content, testing the waters, putting our best out there, getting people’s reactions, getting people’s attention. Then we have NBC license , we also have DBC license, we’re going to start our own platform, 24 hours on any platform that we have a workable and a mutually beneficial agreement with. We are open to being on different platforms but for this Ramadan, we’re going to be on Startimes on Ibadah TV .
What are some of the interesting differences between doing TV and other ventures you’ve embarked on?
With the others things that I’ve done, they are my ideas; things I can actually just do on my own and ask a few people to help execute my ideas. but TV is not like that. It is much more involving and you require people who are very creative, people who can interpret your ideas. And what we have done with Aleef TV, we don’t want Aleef TV to be a regular religious channel that all you do there is preach. People will want to listen to preaching but they also want more. Islam like we all know is a way of life i.e it’s about everything. So, Aleef TV is not just about preaching, it’s about lifestyle, it’s about showcasing the best of Muslims; how they live, how they eat, e.t.c. So we have cooking shows, we have health, finances, business, talk shows, game shows, movies, drama series, everything. If you say your children shouldn’t listen to secular music with jerky lyrics, you have to provide them something else. So, we have music that is inspirational and clean. People want to watch movies and relax. There are drama series that don’t have vulgar language, don’t have obscene scenes, that are acceptable, that the entire family can sit down together and enjoy.
So, all we do is everything that any channel would do but with modesty. This is modesty, we have fashion shows but not immodest fashion, we have runway that would be modest runway. So, it is about modesty and ethics that is interesting and fun.
What are some of the narratives you hope to change with this channel?
Basically, a lot of times, Islam has been misrepresented. If you are not telling your story, the person who will be telling it can decide to tell it in a non-flattering way. But Aleef Tv is a platform to showcase the best of Muslims. We have Muslim entrepreneurs, Muslim CEOs, Muslim artists, Muslims who are doing well and they don’t have a platform to talk in other channels. This is where they can speak and you can see the best of them. So Aleef Tv is for Muslims to see the best in themselves and for other people (non Muslims)to see that oh…so this is what Islam says, so Islam is this beautiful. So the brand objective is appealing, rich, artistic, opulent and classy. You’ll see what Islam really stands for, real Islam, so we’re changing the narrative and letting people know what the real Islam is.
We have seen Islamic leaders frown at a lot of entertainment programmes that appeal to the youth. What kinds of entertainment programmes do you have in mind for your Tv channel?
Precisely, the youth is our main target on Aleef TV. They constitute a larger percentage of our population. They are the future and you have to nurture them. You have to give them what they want, You have to speak their language. They are digital natives. They are very digital, they are on the internet, they are surfing, they are on social media. So, you can’t say they shouldn’t dance, they shouldn’t sing or watch movies. They can do all these but in the Islamic way.
You can’t say young ladies shouldn’t wear makeup. They see their peers wearing makeup. They can wear their makeup and do their hijab in a very stylish way and they will still be Muslims. So there has to be a sort of balance and they can get a lot of that from Aleef TV. Aleef TV will be modern, will be youth centric, it will be futuristic, and it will be realistic so that young people can find their own voice as well. That is what Aleef TV plans to do. We are here to be the moderating factor. There will be lots of youth shows. Youth will be talking to themselves, they know their issues, they know their idiosyncrasies, so if you see your peers talking about the same kind of problem that you have, then you know that you are not alone.
Why have you chosen the urban woman as your target audience when the people who need education and enlightening are in the rural areas?
We haven’t chosen the urban woman has our target. You can be in the village and watch and feel like, I’ll like my children to be like this Woman/Man. The idea is to entertain and also give hope that if a Muslim Man/Woman can attain this height. What stops me from being there too? So, the channel is educational, enlightening and entertaining.
Ramadan is on now; in what way do you think the current pandemic will affect the event?
The Pandemic Covid-19 has already affected everything and Ramadan is not immune to that. But what we need to do is to learn from it and just know that God is having a reset. For sooooooo long the World had not taken a break. And at a point, it has to happen. There has to be a break. And God is a God of Balance. If he decides to give us sunshine 24hrs a day/ 365 days a year, we would burn out. Nobody will be able to survive it. Even the plant that needs the sunlight to grow, if they have too much of it, they won’t grow. They will wither and die. So God moderates everything. The Pandemic has affected Ramadan in a positive way. We have more time to pray now and to reflect and strategize on how to live life in a better way.
We would pray to God to heal those who are sick. This time is to pray to God to stop the Pandemic and to give us solution. So that any time it recurs there will be a solution to counter the Pandemic. This is a trying time and we pray to God to heal the World.
Are there conditions under which certain people can be exempted from fasting?
Oh yes! It is clearly stated in the Quran; pregnant women, sick people, old people and travellers. Islam is not a rigid, punishing religion. Islam is a considerate religion.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve leant as a business woman?
Discipline, hard work, focus and sincerity. You have to have all of these because when people trust you with their money, you should be accountable at every point in time.